Hunter Mahan stood on the 18th tee, the 72nd hole of the 2012 Shell Houston Open, and probably knew he was one good drive from winning his 5th PGA Tour event. The final pairing, the t.v. cameras and fans all watching, other players waiting to see what he did - can you imagine what was going through his mind?
I can. The same thing that had probably been going through his mind the previous 71 holes.
What? Yes, to Hunter Mahan, this was probably just another drive to hit.
Have you ever wondered why you can stripe it so well on the range and then come apart on the golf course? Or how you might have record round going for 14 or 15 holes and collapse late?
The difference is actually simple. Process-oriented golf is what we are most comfortable with. We pick a target, we go through a pre-shot routine, we do our pre-swing checks and we pull the trigger. Results-oriented golf is a different story. We think about consequences to bad shots, we focus on the trouble on the course, we get tense and we no longer act, we react.
When I think of classic examples of the two, I think of last year's Masters. For three days, Rory McIlroy was playing process-oriented golf - and it was stunning. On the last day, as he chased his first major, he started to think results. We all know what happened. But he learned to stay in the moment, and then at the U.S. Open, even with a big lead on the final day, he remained process-oriented and pulled away even more.
This week's "A Lesson Learned" is quite simple - focus on the process. Your tee shot on the 18th hole is actually no more important than the tee shot on the 1st hole, other than you won't have time to make up for a bad score later. The physics of the golf swing and ball flight will hold true just the same. As I tell students, a ten foot putt is a ten foot putt, no matter when you have to make it.
I got home in time to see the end of the LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Championship as well. I.K. Kim missed a 1-foot putt to win in regulation. A one-foot putt. She probably makes that putt 999 times out of a thousand except for this one time, think she was thinking of winning her first major? And of course, she ended up losing in a playoff.
So anyways, back to Hunter. Despite t.v. announcers and probably fans and other players doubting his selection, Hunter did what he always does on that hole. He hit the driver, he hit it perfect and a few minutes later, he was collecting one of those oversized checks.
The next time you are in a dramatic or intense situation - don't think of the pressure involved or what might be at stake - get back to what you know you can do. Deep breath, go through your routine and remember, the ball doesn't know what's at stake. It will go where the process takes it.
Trevor Gliwski is the PGA Director of Instruction at The Rick Smith Golf Academy at Tiburon Golf Club, Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla. Gliwski was the 2009 South West Florida Chapter PGA Teacher of the Year.